V Kohli

India, NZ bask in cricket’s capacity to surprise

One of the most enticing qualities that sport possesses is unpredictability. Over time, enough spectacularly improbably outcomes are achievable to keep us in thrall to the nuances of whichever sport(s) we are most drawn to.

Cricket does not necessarily reign supreme against other disciplines in this aspect. There have been enough predictably one-sided outcomes in the past few months alone to keep us grounded. South Africa’s home Test series against Sri Lanka was almost depressingly one-sided, for instance. But the duller days allow uss= to appreciate the more exciting stuff even more.

It is fair to say the past 24 hours have provided a triple whammy of extraordinary events. And the mere fact that the least remarkable of them was Pakistan’s one-day international win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (their first victory of any kind against Australia in Australia for 12 years) tells it all.

Pakistan, who had been competitive for much of the first ODI, strolled to victory over a disjointed Australia side. It was the discipline of both the spinners and then the top-order batsmen that set up a six-wicket win with 14 balls remaining. According to the official team rankings, this was a case of the eighth best team in the world trumping the no. 1 side. But you may remember Australia were whitewashed by South Africa just three months ago.

The indications are that the ICC Champions Trophy in June – for which hosts England are joint favourites alongside Australia (the two of them narrowly ahead of South Africa in the betting) – will be wide open and with the scope for plenty of surprise.

The two even bigger shocks of Sunday into Monday were India’s recovery from 63-4 to overhaul England’s 350 in the ODI series opener in Pune and New Zealand’s Test win over Bangladesh, who scored 595-8 declared in the first innings.

Let’s begin with India, if only because the match was completed around 12 hours before New Zealand’s dramatic success. It was interesting to note – and indeed this was an aspect that received plenty of traction on Twitter – that India were rated 55% on WinViz at the halfway stage. In other words, we had them narrow but clear favourites. Some pessimistic Indian fans and some optimistic England supporters would have certainly queried with this assessment, and the betting exhanges, in which the odds are set up by bettors rather than bookmakers, also had England favourites.

But look at what lay ahead: a very small batting ground and a flat wicket (even David Willey managed to flick a one-handed six), the presence of the two best chasers the game has in MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, and perhaps most crucially a notably weak England bowling line-up.

The fast bowlers, with Mark Wood and Reece Topley both injured and unavailable, has a lack of spite and variety to it. Willey and Chris Woakes in particular – and to some extent Ben Stokes too – always seem to struggle to either contain or attack once the game reaches the middle overs. This is something I have blogged on before – but by far the biggest concern was the form of Adil Rashid.

Wellington Test: General view

New Zealand and Bangladesh exchange handshakes after a remarkable Wellington Test was won by the hosts

The Yorkshire leg-spinner began the match rated the fifth best bowler in the world in ODIs, believe it or not. And when the confidence is flowing, he is a force to be reckoned with as he possesses a good googly that he is not afraid to use and usually gets plenty of turn if there is any offer. On Sunday the confidence was not flowing. Rashid sent down five wicketless overs costing 50 runs. The poor fellow’s lengths were all over the place – less than half landing on a good length according to our stats – with a brutal 41 runs being hit off the 16 deliveries that were too full or too short.

Contrast Rashid with Ravindra Jadeja, who landed 88% of his balls on a good length and collected figures of 10-0-50-1, making him the most economical bowler in the match.

But of course the game was not won and lost simply because Jadeja showed so much more control than Rashid. Massive credit has to go the way of two Indian batsmen, and in particular Kedar Jadhav. When Virat Kohli scores 122 off 105 balls in a successful chase and still isn’t man of the match you know there has been one heck of a performance from someone else.

Jadhav provided it with 120 from just 76 balls, and remember he came in when Dhoni had departed. India were down below 13% on WinViz but Jadhav took pressure off Kohli by attacking immediately, with the senior batsman cleverly realising mere singles from him in the middle overs would keep the required rate in check.

The stats on the Jadhav innings are pretty special. He looked to score runs off all but seven balls he received, and on only nine occasions when he attacked did he fail to score at least a single. His driving was clinical and brutal – 28 runs from nine such shots – and he was by far the most effective puller on the day with 26 runs from 13 shots.

And so on to New Zealand’s Test win in Hamilton. This was clouded with misfortune for Bangladesh, who had captain Mushfiqur Rahim injured twice in the match: batting with a suspected broken hand in the second innings he was then struck a blow on the helmet and forced to retire hurt. Nor was he the only top batsman to get injured. Opener Imrul Kayes was also in the wars, re-emerging at the fall of the seventh wicket on the final day in some desperation having hobbled off late on day four.

Before Kayes’s injury, Bangladesh led by 102 with all 10 second-innings wickets in hand and New Zealand were down to 3.7% on WinViz with the draw a massive favourite. But has as been noted recently the draw is an exeptionally rare commodity in Test cricket right now (there has been just one in the last 27 Tests) and when pressure came to bear on Bangladesh they couldn’t deal with it.

Eight balls into the final day, Shakib Al Hasan played a ridiculous chip to mid-on and New Zealand’s vultures scented blood. Bangladesh now led by just 122 with four batsmen dismissed and two more under a massive injury cloud. After Neil Wagner had ousted Mominul Haque, and the unfortunate Mushfiqur was forced out of the fray, Trent Boult quickly took three of the last four wickets needed. That left the hosts needing 217 to win in 57 overs, and they cruised it.

New Zealand’s seam bowlers have fixed roles. Wagner concentrates more than any other international bowler on short stuff. In Bangladesh’s second innings, he bowled 58 deliveries on a short length and 16 back of a length. Just 11 balls were full length with six half-volleys thrown in. The really full ball becomes the surprise weapon, and it was one of those that did for Mominul.

Tim Southee is perhaps the best equipped to profit from any natural movement available while Trent Boult opts for subtle changes of angle, pace and length. Boult removed the dogged Sabbir Rahman with a very wide delivery that perhaps begged to be smashed but was neither the length to drive or cut. And he took out the tail-enders Taskin Ahmed and Subashis Roy with some lovely yorker bowling. He attempted 10 yorkers, a high number by modern standards, and one or two were not quite in the slot, but it mattered not.

We quickly move on, for that is the way with the modern international calendar. England have two more ODIs in India before three T20 internationals, Bangladesh have one more Test in New Zealand and Pakistan three more ODIs in Australia. Follow all the action in our free-to-download app. If the experience of the last few days is anything to go by there could be some absorbing cricket to soak up.

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